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January 10, 2013 8:31 am

All joking (aside): Could you take that outside?

Written by Dante Geoffrey

Unless you’re talking to a child, there’s no reason to labor the point of why one shouldn’t smoke. A lot of us do a lot of things that we know we shouldn’t. If the anti-smoking argument was a horse, some Southside student would be using it to hold glitter to construction paper.

So smoke away, guys who give me a funny look as I enter the bar. Smoke away, girls who I had found attractive right up until the moment I saw you gripping a cigarette between your knuckles.

Smoke away, away from me.

Don’t get me wrong; I love densely polluted air in close quarters, and I find it convenient for my jackets to signal everyone within 10 feet of me that I was out the previous night — Finally! A reason to check out all of Park County’s dry cleaning hot spots! — but, as an empath, I worry for our collective health.

Wyoming has no statewide smoking ban. Instead, it is up to individual cities or counties to decide to what, if any, extent smoking should be banned in bars and restaurants. Six cities in the state, including Cheyenne, Casper and Laramie, Wyoming’s three most populous cities, have banned smoking in all bars and restaurants. Also ahead of the progressive curve are Evanston and Burlington, population: visible only if you squint.

Rock Springs and Green River have banned smoking in restaurants, but not bars.

That means approximately 35 percent of the state’s population (according to the 2011 census estimates) lives in municipalities that have already taken action on the issue.

If the state of Wyoming doesn’t get around to passing anti-smoking legislation (and there’s no reason to think it will anytime soon) the city of Powell would do well to join the first wave of Wyoming cities to ban smoking. But if Powell doesn’t have what it takes to enact a ban, Powell businesses would be wise to take it upon themselves to stamp out indoor smoking.

Five of the six states that border Wyoming have banned smoking in bars, restaurants and non-hospitality workplaces. The sixth state, Idaho, has banned smoking in restaurants but still permits it in bars.

Wyoming is the only state (besides Alaska) without a statewide ban that isn’t part of the American south or directly bordering a southern state. Now, that fact doesn’t really mean anything. But it also doesn’t mean nothing. A general rule of thumb: don’t fight too hard for something only the South seems to be in favor of.

Two Sundays ago, I went to a local drinkery to watch the Redskins-Cowboys game. It was a very important game (as far as meaningless sports games go) and I do not have cable at my home, so the bar it was.

After walking (safety first) the three blocks from my apartment, I walked in to what appeared to be a time capsule from 2002. About a dozen guys at least 10 years removed from college were wearing jerseys, drinking beers, yelling and playing beer pong.

And smoking. There was a lot of smoking.

I was talking with an off-duty bartender at my table when a guy who knew her approached us. He was holding a lit cigarette but he wasn’t blowing smoke in my face, so I wasn’t going to say anything. (I probably wouldn’t say anything even if he was.)

But to my dismay, she did, and for some reason, she said it on my behalf. “He doesn’t like cigarette smoke.”

What he said next was the exact reason I would have avoided the barely-confrontation in the first place.

After an incredulous scoff, “You’re in a smoking bar…”

I was aware, and to a degree I understood. He was doing nothing wrong or illegal. Though I suppose a more courteous smoker might go outside anyway, or at least not bring their lit cigarette over to two non-smokers.

The lack of courtesy isn’t a surprise, though. Too many people are too unaware of how their actions are a direct detriment to someone they are too near.

That’s why there are rules and laws. For centuries, governing bodies have known that, left to our own devices, there would be chaos. We’re all pretty dumb, and very few of us know any better.

Yet, in Powell, and everywhere else smoking is tolerated in public establishments, the many are at the mercy of the few.

Judging by the number of people smoking in Powell pubs on any given night, you might think the smokers are the majority. It’s certainly possible, and there’s certainly a higher population of smokers amongst the current bar crowd, but I think non-smokers would provide a boost to Powell bars that less resembled the final scene of Casablanca.

Wyoming seems very libertarian in its overriding philosophy. Don’t mess with me, and I won’t mess with you. Comme ci comme ça.

Which is great. For the most part, people should be left alone so long as their actions are not causing harm to others.

But as much as the opposing crowd would want to say otherwise, smoking doesn’t lend itself to the libertarian, “just let me be” argument.

Wyoming would do well to take a more utilitarian approach to this issue. The greatest good for the greatest amount would mean asking some to please take that cigarette outside.

Smoking harms others. If you remove all other variables, I will now die younger than had I not spent X amount of hours in Wyoming’s carcinogen-laced saloons.

Sure, I could leave. I don’t have to be there. But neither do smokers. If anyone has to be at a bar/restaurant, it’s the service staff. Either you respect their health and their right to work in a safe environment, or you delude yourself with the notion that jobs are a dime a dozen and they can work elsewhere if they don’t like it.

The argument is almost too simple. If there wasn’t smoking in restaurants and bars, people would live longer. So ... what else needs to be said?

There would be little downside to anti-smoking legislation or business-specific rules. For the city of Powell, the only worry would be a potential loss of business — a worry that I don’t believe is warranted. What is the alternative for those affected by my desired Exile on Bent Street? Will the desire to smoke indoors be so strong that there is an exodus of smokers from Powell to Cody? Will smokers give up going to bars all together? Of course not. They’ll come back to their usual seats in their usual bars and order their usual drinks. They might do so a little more disgruntled at first, but like the rest of the planet, they’ll adapt.

The patrons of the Silver Dollar Bar in Cody did. The popular Sheridan Avenue pub banned smoking within its doors in the summer of 2011. Owner Gail Nace said she has had nothing but positive responses since the change, and business has not been hurt at all.

Nace made an effort to make it as comfortable as possible (namely with heaters and minimal rain protection) for smokers to go outside, where she said smokers would be if they weren’t at a bar.

“The way I look at it, most people don’t smoke in their homes, so there’s no reason they can’t step outside to smoke at a bar,” Nace said.

Nace would encourage any Powell business owner contemplating a smoking ban to go through with it.

“Everybody gets used to it,” Nace said. “Sometimes change is difficult for some people, but just do it.”

If there’s one thing I know about Powell, it’s that it wants to beat Cody. So if a Cody bar can pull off a successful smoking ban, what reason is there to think the same can’t happen in Powell?

I have been lucky to travel and spend time in cities all across the state, and I have little doubt that Powell is one of the most attractive, inviting cities Wyoming has to offer. Powell should take pride in staying ahead of the game — by allowing me to watch one in a bar without goggles and a face mask.

3 comments

  • Comment Link January 11, 2013 12:04 am posted by Buddha of Suburbia

    Get cable you cheap skate.

  • Comment Link January 11, 2013 9:14 am posted by Non Smoker

    I'm with you on this one Dante. Why should the non smoker get cable?? More people would enjoy more of our establishments if they were smoke free. Who wants to smell like an ashtray? Not me!

  • Comment Link January 24, 2013 9:25 pm posted by Christina Liggett

    Banning smoking in franchises such as bars and restaurants is rightfully left to the owners of those businesses to dictate, not a federal regulation. In addition, if second-hand smoke is a concern, the simple solution to that inconvenience is to avoid places where exposure to it is possible.

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